Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he commends Representative Ae Ae for calling for primary elections and urges the Fono to establish primaries for the office of Delegate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Representatives.
“Since 1998, I have written to our Governors, past and present, urging the establishment of primary elections in American Samoa to ensure that our military men and women could vote like every other American serving in the US Armed Forces,” Faleomavaega said. “I have also written to and testified before our local Legislature and copies of my testimony and letters and part of the public record.”
“I also brought this matter to the attention of our people through press releases,
newsletters, radio and tv programs. In 2001, I conducted a Congressional survey and 85% of those surveyed agreed that American Samoa’s overseas voters and active duty service members should be allowed to vote in local and federal elections held in our Territory.”
“Unfortunately, for years, American Samoa’s overseas voters and military men and women were disenfranchised from the political process and denied the right to vote in our elections. In part, this was due to two complications. One, American Samoa law required overseas voters and uniformed and overseas voters to register to vote in person and this was contrary to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act of 1975. While I am pleased that our legislature worked to address the local registration process, our uniformed and overseas voters were also denied the right to vote as a result of Public Law 95-556 passed on October 31, 1978.”
“Federal, or PL 95-556, provided for the Territory of American Samoa to be represented by a nonvoting Delegate to the United States House of Representatives and mandated that if no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, on the fourteenth day following such election, a runoff election shall be held between the candidates receiving the highest and second highest number of votes cast.”
“Like many, I believed this 1978 federal law requiring a runoff election to be held only 14 days after the general election created, as Governor Togiola said, ‘a situation where it [was] virtually impossible for American Samoa’s Election Office to send out absentee ballots to the men and women in the military and expect to receive them back in time for those votes to be counted in a run-off election.’ Given that our mail is delayed and our air service is limited to two flights a week, many agreed that some measure should be put in place to assure that the votes of our military men and women are counted and that this injustice was corrected.”
“During the 107th Congress, I introduced H.R. 3576, a bill to establish primary elections and which made sure that the Delegate was elected by a majority of the votes cast. When introducing this bill, I pointed out that both Guam and the Virgin Islands were once bound by the two week federal runoff requirement but established primary elections to resolve similar problems. Notwithstanding, the American Samoa Government (ASG) chose not to support this bill due to the cost of primary elections.”
“Given ASG’s financial difficulties and out of respect for its concerns, I introduced H.R. 4838 which called for voting by plurality in lieu of primary elections. As I explained when introducing H.R. 4838, 49 of the 50 states use plurality voting to elect their Representatives to Congress. The counties of Tualauta and Itu’au in American Samoa also elect their representatives by plurality vote. Plurality voting minimizes costs to the local government and also provides active duty service members and other overseas voters an opportunity to participate fully in the federal election process. Despite these considerations, ASG chose not to support this bill either.”
“Finally, after further consultations with our local leaders, I introduced H.R. 2010 which calls for plurality voting until such time as ASG establishes primary elections. In a letter dated September 11, 2003, Governor Togiola informed me that he had reviewed the copy of H.R. 2010 that I sent to him and that he was satisfied that this bill would provide an immediate solution to address the concerns we had regarding the voting rights of our men and women in the military services. The late Lutu Tenari S. Fuimaono, President of the American Samoa Senate, also supported this bill which President Bush signed into Public Law 108-376.”
“As a result of PL 108-376, the American Samoa Legislature now has the authority to establish primary elections for the office of the Delegate, and I encourage the Fono to act and establish primary elections for all elections held in the Territory. In order to avoid the problem of once again disenfranchising our overseas voters and military men and women, however, I respectfully suggest that primary elections be held at least 3 months prior to the general elections,” Congressman Faleomavaega concluded.